Speak, Friend, and Enter|
Hidden in Rivendell with her son, Gilraen searches for a way to write a letter to her family.
A/N: With great thanks to my beta, who went above and beyond the call of duty on this one.
Gilraen glanced over her shoulder in worry, praying that no one else in Imladris would be present to witness the scene her son was about to make in the courtyard. It was bad enough that the sons of Elrond should be present; the last thing she needed was for anyone else to hear the piercing cries of a toddler so early in the morning.
“No!” the child wailed, his eyes filling with tears. “I don’t want you to go!”
Gilraen sighed, and tried once more to detach Aragorn—Estel, she corrected herself sternly—from the Elven warrior’s leg.
“Come, Estel,” she said wearily. “It is time to say goodbye to Elladan and Elrohir. They must be getting on with their journey…”
Gilraen glanced up to give Elrohir an apologetic look. Since coming to Rivendell her son had barely let Elrond’s sons out of his sight. Fortunately, the peredhil seemed equally delighted with Estel’s company, and had been more than happy to occupy their days telling her son stories and playing with him in the courtyards of their father’s home. Now, however, as they departed once more for the Wild, Estel was poised to fall into a temper tantrum the likes of which the Last Homely House had yet to see.
“There now, little one,” Elrohir bent down and lifted Estel off the ground to meet his eyes. “We shall not be gone for very long. You shall have your naneth to play with you, and when we return we shall have even more stories to tell you, of bears and eagles and more besides.”
“Stories?” the boy sniffed, wiping at his eyes with one grubby hand.
“A new story every night,” Elrohir smiled. “Now, how would you feel about one final horseback ride before we depart?”
Estel shrieked with laughter as Elrohir whisked him around the courtyard, and Elladan turned to Gilraen.
“We hope to reach the Angle before the month’s end,” he said quietly, “to give what assistance we can, as we have always done. Is there anything you would like us to convey to your family? Messages of any kind?”
Gilraen’s breath caught in her throat at the words. Somehow it had barely occurred to her that Elladan and Elrohir might be returning to her homeland so soon, though she supposed it shouldn’t surprise her. The manner in which they last departed had been less than civil, but the Dúnedain were hardly in a position to turn away the offered help of two additional warriors. Their resources had always been stretched too thin, and the swords of the peredhil would always be welcome.
Bitter grief rose in her unbidden, and she fought to chase away that selfish thoughts that formed in her mind. How unjust it seemed, that they might return to her people when she could not! What messages could she possibly give to Elladan in this moment that would convey all she wished to say to her family?
“Tell them that my son knows twice as many words as he did when last they saw him,” she said at last. “Tell them I love them all, and miss them more than I can say. And tell my brother…” she gave a small smile and shook her head as she remembered his parting words to her. “Tell Tarcil that he was right after all.”
Elladan raised an eyebrow but didn’t pry, and simply clasped Gilraen’s hands in farewell as Elrohir approached with Estel. Gilraen took the child in her arms, and waved with him as the twins mounted their horses and rode off beyond the gates.
“Why’d they leave, Mama?” Estel asked her. “Where’d they go?”
Home, she thought. They are going home.
The morning was young still, and Elrond joined them after breakfast for a walk through the gardens near the gates. His presence cheered Estel up significantly, but the distraction allowed Gilraen’s mind to wander back to the melancholic state she’d been fighting ever since Elladan and Elrohir had left. She put on a brave face for Estel, but there was a part of her that wished she had the luxury her two-year-old had, and could simply give into weeping.
Stop it, she admonished herself. Two months in Rivendell and life had not proven to be so bad. Elrond and the members of his household had shown her more kindness than she knew what to do with, and she would only be fooling herself if she said she missed the hardships that came with life among the Dúnedain. She had settled into a routine caring for Estel, and the relief she felt at the knowledge of his safety here had helped in its own way to ease the pain of Arathorn’s loss.
But life was not the same as it had been living among her people, and she felt the absence of easy companionship among her family and the other young members of her village more keenly every day. She was lonely, and the sooner she admitted that to herself the sooner she could accept it and move on with her life.
“Would you like me to take him for the day, Gilraen?” Elrond interrupted her reverie, his voice gentle. “Forgive me for saying so, but you look as if you could use the afternoon to yourself.”
Gilraen flushed, ashamed that her emotions read so plainly on her face, but nodded her assent. She did not care to admit how deeply the peredhil’s departure had unsettled her, but it would be better for Estel if she could take time to gather herself and set her mind to rights.
She knew the layout of Imladris well enough by now, and she walked along a path that led to the waterfalls, shivering slightly against the chill breeze. Autumn had finally arrived, and the changing of the seasons served as yet another marker on her time here. It was no mistake, she knew, that Elladan and Elrohir made their way to their people now, when all would be busy with the harvest and patrols would be stretched to their thinnest.
How I wish I could have sent them something, she thought, a letter to Mama and Ada, a gift for Tarcil, anything more than the scant words whispered to Elladan. But she knew she could not send her parents a letter even the next time, not one in the detail that she wished. She longed to confess her lingering grief and despair to her mother, to ask her father what things he would pass on to the heir and chieftain of his people as a Dúnedain leader, for there was only so much of that Elrond and Erestor would teach to him. But such words could not be put on paper sent along the open road at risk of falling into the hands of the Enemy, Valar forbid that the Elladan and Elrohir would ever meet such an end. And such words she could not put into the mouths of the peredhil to pass along, however much she trusted them. There were things she wished for her mother’s ears alone, but she despaired of any true communication between Rivendell and the Angle.
It was difficult enough for Arathorn to maintain contact with the Rangers far afield, she thought, remembering the long nights her husband would spend pouring over missives from captains who were too deeply entrenched in the Wild to deliver their reports in person. And such matters were far more important than the workings of my heart. Why, it would take him enough time simply to decipher the letters…
She slowed to a stop, her mind wandering back to the ciphers and codes that the Dúnedain warriors made use of. They were taught to every Ranger captain for use on long patrols or emergencies, and Gilraen had been witness to enough of her husband’s frustrations to know it was hardly a perfect system. But she had never bothered to learn any of it for herself, or wonder if it might have usefulness beyond military matters. If only she had possessed some measure of foresight, and taken the time to pay better attention to her husband’s doings, she could send a letter to her father to decipher…
But was she not in Rivendell, the place heralded throughout her youth as a center of lore and knowledge, not just for Elves but for all races? If ever there were a place outside the Dúnedain settlements that would hold the knowledge she sought, this would be it. She turned and strode quickly back towards the building that housed the great libraries, daring to hope that Erestor might be able find something for her in the archives.
During her first week in Rivendell Erestor had taken Gilraen on a short tour of the archives, pointing her briefly in the vague direction of the histories of Men—the accounts of Gondor and the lost kingdoms of Arnor and Arthedain. Today, however, Erestor was nowhere in sight, so she threaded her way tentatively through the endless line of shelves, hoping that she could retrace her steps well enough. She peered down an aisle and wondered if she would be limited to secondhand accounts and tomes, or if she might find true records like those the Elves maintained of their own history. Sheaves of paper stuck out at odd ends on various shelves, and everything seemed so strangely organized that she hardly knew where to begin.
“Is there something in particular you are looking for, Lady Gilraen?”
She jumped and turned to see an Elven maid standing in the dim light, eyeing Gilraen with curiosity.
“My apologies,” the Elf said. “I did not mean to startle you. You are the lady Gilraen, are you not?”
Gilraen suppressed a sigh. As the only female mortal in Imladris, she had tried to grow used to being recognized on sight by every strange Elf she encountered, but it never failed to rattle her in its own small way.
“I am,” she replied. “I had hoped to find Lord Erestor, though I am not sure yet what help he could give. I’m afraid, though,” she continued pointedly, “that I do not know your name.”
“Forgive me, my lady,” the Elf smiled. “Your name is known to many of us here, but you have no reason to know mine. I am Merineth—I assist Erestor with record-keeping and maintaining the archives. Anything you had hoped to ask him, I can likely answer for you as well.”
Gilraen nodded. It might be better this way, at any rate—she was not likely to encounter Merineth outside of the archives, whereas Erestor might well have brought the tale of her fool’s errand back to Elrond.
“Do you keep records of the old Dúnedain chieftains here?” she asked, “Perhaps old letters, things such as that?”
“We do,” she said, “though no one has asked after them in many years. I can gather for you what we have, but it would help us both, I think, to know just what it is you are looking for.”
Gilraen paused, embarrassed suddenly at the nature of her request, and wondered how much she dared reveal to this strange Elf that she barely knew.
“There are codes my husband used to use when writing to his men,” she answered at last. “He was always careful with any writing he put on paper, for fear of it falling into enemy hands. I never paid much attention to it, myself… but I had hoped if I could find and recreate them here, they might be of use to me.”
“I see,” Merineth said. “Do you know when your people started using such codes, or how they might be deciphered?”
“No,” Gilraen confessed, “I’m afraid I know little other than what I saw at my husband’s table.”
“A true challenge, then,” Merineth said, and her eyes had a sudden gleam to them. “And a chance to finally set the old records to rights. I’m glad you have come, Lady Gilraen—Erestor has not given me a task as fascinating as this in what feels like an age.”
Merineth led Gilraen to a long table near the front of the library before disappearing back into the shelves. The better part of an hour passed before she finally returned, her face hidden by a stack of old books and parchment.
“Here we are,” she said, depositing the papers before Gilraen. “The papers of every Dúnedain chieftain since Aranarth himself. I figured we might start there, and pray we might not have to delve too much farther back into your people’s history.”
Gilraen glanced at the top piece on the pile—an account of the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain—and began to sift carefully through the sheets of parchment.
“There seem to be gaps here,” Gilraen said as she continued to skim through the writings. “See, it goes straight from Araglas to Aravorn, unless I have missed something.”
“Some records of the Chieftains have been lost over the years,” Merineth remarked, a hint of disapproval in her tone, “and some never made it to us in the first place. The archives of Men used to be far better kept…in the days when the kings reigned and communication flowed freely between Elves and Men they were always well maintained. Since the decline of the house of Aranarth they have fallen to neglect. Nowadays we rarely see those of your race, save the Dúnedain chieftains that are fostered here and other such guests. It does not give Erestor much incentive to keep things up to date.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Gilraen said. “Though I would have thought, given what he has told me, that Lord Elrond would show more of an interest in the descendents of his line…”
“Well, the records of Men are still in better condition than most,” Merineth said dryly. “You have yet to see the Dwarf archives.”
Gilraen chuckled as she turned her attention back to the papers that had been retrieved for her. She made her way through the older, bound books of the earlier Chieftains, pausing with a brief pang at the papers of the first Aragorn. She barely noticed that the sun had begun to sink behind her, or that Merineth had long abandoned the table for her other duties. Her concentration was only broken by a loud thump before her, and she looked up to see that Merineth had dropped a new stack of books and papers on the table, her expression triumphant and her hair slightly askew.
“By Elbereth,” she said breathlessly, “you would not believe what you uncover when you finally get around to some organizing. Letters I never knew we had, and an entirely new account of Isildur’s death! Written by one of his men—Erestor shall throw an unholy fit when he hears—anyway, I’ve found more records from Arnor for you, if you think they would be useful in any way.”
“Thank you,” Gilraen replied, “but I have a feeling if I cannot find what I seek among the Chieftains’ papers, going farther back will be of little use to me.”
Merineth leaned over the table, peering at the piece of parchment that Gilraen held in her hand.
“There’s nothing you’ve found?” she asked.
“No,” Gilraen answered, “at least, nothing that suits my purposes. The only letters I’ve seen have been written in plain Sindarin, or in the Common Tongue. And they have all been personal letters, from one family member to another. Nothing of the nature that Arathorn would use the ciphers for…”
Merineth frowned as she pulled up a chair across the table.
“These codes you speak of,” she said, “what did your husband and his men use them for, primarily?”
“Military matters, mostly,” Gilraen answered. “If a Ranger patrol was too far out to report back in person, they would send a raven back with information, or to warn of any impending danger. They would code the messages so that even if the enemy found them they would learn nothing from them.”
“I see,” Merineth said slowly.
“What is it?” Gilraen asked, “Is there something wrong with that?”
Merineth hesitated, and Gilraen’s heart sank.
“Most of the accounts we have of military affairs were written long after the fact,” she said, “like the account of Isildur I just mentioned. It makes sense, after a fashion…if your people use code only to pass along important information, as you say, they would have little incentive to keep the letters, and more to destroy them. It would be a lucky chance indeed if any such letters made it to us here.”
Gilraen gave a small nod, careful to keep her expression calm even as the disappointment flooded her.
“So we will find nothing here,” she said finally. “The only people who have the information I seek are exactly where I wish I could be.”
“Now, I didn’t say we should give up yet,” Merineth countered. “We haven’t tried everything, there are still a few shelves I could—“
“It’s done,” Gilraen snapped. “It was stupid to think to try.”
And suddenly it was too much to hold back the tears she’d been fighting off ever since Elladan and Elorhir had departed, to deny the black despair that threatened to overwhelm her even on her best days. She rose abruptly from the table and strode out of the library, praying she’d meet no one on her way out. The sunset blurred against the edge of the Valley, and she choked back a sob as she gazed out at the haven that would never quite be home.
She let herself cry for as long as she dared before she made her way back to her quarters, where she found Elrond still with Estel. He took his leave of them both, and Gilraen was treated to Estel’s excited chattering as he did his best to relay all he had done with his foster father. It seemed that the child had entirely forgotten the day’s earlier troubles, and Elrond had exhausted him so much he went to sleep without any trouble. At least something has gone right this day.
She kept the door to her son’s room propped open, and had settled herself into her chair with a book she had borrowed from Elrond when she heard a soft knock on the door.
She opened the door to find Merineth standing on the other side, and she flushed with embarrassment as she remembered the state in which she had left the library. Even Elrond had never seen her at her worst before.
“May I come in?” Merineth asked.
“Of course,” Gilraen answered as she opened the door. Merineth stepped inside, barely bothering to hide her curiosity as she surveyed what Gilraen knew were, for Rivendell, modest living arrangements.
“I hope I do not appear too rude, coming here uninvited,” she said. “I only wanted to make sure you were all right…”
Gilraen shook her head.
“I’m so sorry about before, Merineth,” she said. “I was only…there is no reason you should have had to see me in such a state...”
“And there is less reason for you to hide your grief,” Merineth said gently. “You left your family behind to come here, did you not? It is no wonder that you would feel pain at their absence, even now.”
Gilraen gave a shuddering sigh, and fought the urge to bury her head in her hands. Some days it seemed as though her mourning would never truly end.
“I am grateful for all that Lord Elrond has offered my son here,” she said, once she was sure of her voice, “make no mistake of that. But to be so far removed from my parents, my friends…I had not even begun to comprehend how it would hurt, when I first came here. And it was foolish, but I had hoped…I had hoped for a moment I might be able to send them something, however cryptic it might be. Now that hope is just another disappointment.”
Merineth reached forward to take Gilraen’s hand in both of her own.
“You will forgive my forwardness, Lady Gilraen,” she said. “I do not presume to make light of your own hardships, but…I think I do understand some part of this grief. And perhaps such understanding will help to ease your pain.”
“How do you mean?” Gilraen asked.
Merineth did not answer at first, but looked down at her own hands, her eyes distant.
“My own family departed these shores long ago,” she said at last. “They sailed for Valinor, not long after the Lady Celebrían did. Middle-Earth had given them all they could, but…I was younger than the rest, and I wished to learn more of this world before I left. So I remained in Rivendell, while they took the ships from the Grey Havens. And…there is no chance I have to communicate with them again. Not until I make that final journey myself.”
Gilraen blinked, suddenly even more ashamed of her tears than before. Valinor, she knew, was far more permanent a separation than that between Rivendell and the Dúnedain.
“How do you bear it?” she asked softly, “how do you bear the pain of their loss?”
“It is hard, sometimes,” Merineth admitted, “even after all these years I will still have the most mundane thought I wish to share with my mother, and I have to remind myself that I cannot. But I know that I shall see them again,” she smiled, “and I am comforted by the presence of my friends here. They bring me joy on days that I would think to find none.”
Gilraen sighed, reminded again of her acute isolation in her quarters with Estel. True, she had made more of an effort in recent weeks to explore more of Imladris with her son, and Elrond had encouraged her to get to know some Elves besides his immediate family and Erestor. But to try and befriend any of the noble folk who populated Elrond’s house seemed a task beyond her spent emotions…
“Have you spent any evenings in the Hall of Fire, Gilraen?”
Merineth’s voice broke through her thoughts and she paused, taken aback. Elrond had invited her along to Rivendell’s great hall a few times now, but she had always politely declined, unwilling to leave Estel behind and knowing that a sleeping child who might awaken at any moment was not the best audience for the Elves’ grand tales.
“Not yet,” she answered, “I’m afraid I have not had the chance.”
“My friend Ravennë is in charge of coordinating the goings-on in the Hall of Fire,” Merineth said. “She has a penchant for modernity that some of our older kin frown upon, but it makes for a far more enlightening night of song. I believe the two of you would get along quite well.”
“She sounds quite lovely,” Gilraen said. “I would like to meet her, someday.”
“Come dine with us,” Merineth suggested, “and join us in the Hall of Fire. Ravennë is going to need more than a few glasses of Dorwinian in her to sit through the premiere of Bainor’s new ballad, and we would both take great pleasure from your company.”
“Tonight?” Gilraen asked. “You are very kind, Merineth, but I cannot leave…I need to stay and watch over my son…”
“Lindir owes me a favor,” Merineth said with a mischievous smile. “I believe he is more capable of looking after Estel for the evening, if you would let him.”
Gilraen continued to protest, but Merineth cut her off with a knowing look.
“Your grief will not be eased by shutting yourself up in your rooms,” she said softly. “And believe me when I say that we would welcome a new face at our table. It is not so often we are afforded the privilege.”
“A privilege,” Gilraen echoed, ducking her head. “I’m not certain you will be calling it that after tonight.”
“But you will come, then?” Merineth urged, and her eyes had such eagerness to them that Gilraen couldn’t help but laugh.
“Yes, I will come,” she replied. “If you can truly convince Lindir to play nursemaid for the evening, I would be glad to join you and your friends.”
“Excellent,” Merineth grinned. “I’ll go fetch him right now.”
She left through the open door, and Gilraen reached over to close the book she had left open on her chair. She placed it back on the bookcase and paused as she glanced at the other volumes, echoes of her earlier grief returning as she thought again of the letter she wished she could write to her mother of this place. Ivorwen would be beside herself with awe if she could hear of the number of books here, or any of the other wonders of Rivendell.
She would not want you to waste your days here in mourning, she thought to herself. She would have you take joy in what you have. And it seems a new friendship is something you can add to that list.
She turned around at the sound of approaching footsteps and smiled. Perhaps she would find a way to make a life here after all.